Monday, November 26, 2012

Matthew Morgan and the Lost Brigade bringing beauty to Chicago music scene


Blending captivating melodies with folk and rock, Chicago band Matthew Morgan and the Lost Brigade is carving its own niche in the local music scene.

The band will perform its new album, "Found," at a CD release party on Dec. 14 at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

Fellow CAUDog label mates The Future Laureates, Goodbyehome and Jeff Brown. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to frontman Matthew Morgan,,  about the band's new CD.

Q - You will be playing your new album, "Found," in its entirety at the Dec. 14 CD release show. Will that be a daunting affair? Do you think it will be hard to replicate the CD on stage, especially given the layered nature of the album?

We've pretty much incorporated everything into our live set, except keyboards. That piece will be missing (for now).  

But, in truth we had to pair down quite a bit of what we normally do live for the recording to avoid sounding too "jammy" in the flattened out stereo format. In addition to violin (Anand Christopher) and lead guitar (Anita Chase) we have a multi-instrumentalist (Dave Szpunar) who literally plays five different instruments and keeps switching instruments throughout the show.  

He plays banjo, accordion, mountain dulcimer, 12 string, and mandolin.  So, the lack of keyboards from the live set shouldn't be too much of a shock.

Q - Is the album's name intentionally ironic given the name of the band? In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals? How do you think the band has evolved since you released your first album?

The irony of the title wasn't lost on us by any means, but it was more of a situation where Kevin (bassist/songwriter) was working on creating artwork for the record and he just sort of threw that word out and everyone had one of those, "Do we like that?  I think we do" kind of moments.  

I guess to us it also represents the way the band sort of came together. After I released my solo album in 2011, I was also showing my paintings at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park. 

Kevin Lahvic is also the president of the FIAA and sort of a local celebrity in the arts community, which is where we met and discovered that we both also played music and wrote songs.  We met Anita there too as she was performing solo gigs for a lot of the art events. 

Dave, Anand, and our drummer Jeff (Jeff Gilbert) were friends of mine who I had played with in various bands. But, in general everyone just kind of "found" each other through various means and later discovered that we all played instruments.  

There was never any kind of formal, "We are starting a band and holding auditions" kind of thing. So, after my record came out, I asked them to support the live gigs and for some reason they've all stuck around.  

Now, on this record, it's much more of a collaborative thing. In fact, there are three songwriters featured on "Found" (myself, Anita Chase, and Kevin Lahvic) can definitely hear the three different styles, but they sort of work together. We're kind of like Fleetwood Mac in that way.

Kevin is an amazing artist. He's designed the cover for the album, as well as all of the merchandise that goes with it. He's even designed a full color, digital booklet that goes with this CD and is full of photos, song lyrics...basically everything tied to making this record.  

It's really beautiful!  The booklet will be available on iTunes and as a free download on our website.

Q - Ellis Clark, who also is the producer and engineer for your record label, CAUDog Records, also produces "Found." What do you think he brings to the table?

Ellis brings a lot of experience with him. He's worked with a lot of top artists and yet he still maintains an informal atmosphere in the studio that encourages creativity.  

Most of the keyboard parts on the record are a result of him getting involved in the creative aspect of the album. He also has a really great ear, so it's definitely good to work with someone who picks up on all of the little things that could otherwise be missed, both good and bad.

Q - Was it important to you to be on a Chicago record label? How do you think you fit in with your label mates?

It was not important to us to sign to a Chicago label (or any label necessarily), but we did it because of the energy and positive encouragement that is immediately apparent with CAUDog Records.

Michael Teach is a well known figure in the Chicago music scene and he's been supporting the careers of hundreds of Chicago's musicians either directly, or indirectly through his weekly podcasts on Chicago Acoustic Underground.

We met him through a mutual friend, Hannah Frank, who is CAU's publicist and also an amazing singer- songwriter about town. I think that we're a really good fit with the label both musically and professionally and we have a lot of autonomy to do what we want to do and to get support wherever we need it.  

I do think that we fit in really well with our label mates. We're kind of in the middle somewhere between acoustic roots music, rock and blues. 

We're featuring three of the other bands on CAUDog Records at our show on Dec. 14 at Double Door; The Future Laureates, Goodbyehome, and Jeff Brown and all of these bands have a cohesive element of "rocking out" with a lot of acoustic and electric instruments on stage.  It's going to be an amazing show!

Q - It seems as though roots music is in demand these days, both on the local and national level. Why do you think that is?

I don't pretend to have a clue what draws people to a particular sound, or genre of music. I like a lot of different types of music.  

But, I do wonder if it's possible that people have just become burnt out with the superficial, image driven music that is constantly forced upon them nowadays. I guess sometimes it's great to see and hear a spectacular event, but we're human beings and we still need feel some kind of tangible connection to our real everyday existence.

I, personally, feel like that's usually missing when I turn on my television...but, what do I know? Speaking for myself, I just love history and the music that has been passed down through much more subtle avenues like campfires, local bars...that sort of thing.

Also, I love acoustic instruments. Electric guitars are incredible, but I just haven't had that moment yet where playing an electric somehow pulls me away from wanting to create sound with an acoustic. I can't really imagine ever having one without the other.

Q - You're also a visual artist. How do your think that has helped you out as a musician?

I think both my paintings and music have informed each other, but they're also different in certain ways. When I write music, it's much more chaotic and free.  

It comes together much faster. However, painting for me is very linear and takes much longer to create from start to finish.

I guess maybe where the visual comes into play is when I'm arranging songs, because it sort of forces me to visualize the song as a canvas divided into separate sections and then figure out how to weave those sections together in the most compelling way.

Q - You've battled some health issues in the past. How have your used those struggles in your music?

I was diagnosed with an immune system disorder called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFIDS) in 2005. It is a pretty major illness that left me housebound for about two and a half years.

I'm better now, but it's something I'll always have to manage as there is currently no cure. My first album "Red Silhouettes," is somewhat of a concept album based on stories from the American Civil War, but in reality, there is a lot about my battle with chronic illness in the lyrics on that album.  

For this record, I was much more free to express myself in other ways as my health has improved.  Also, it's a collaborative record with the other members of the band and it's more representative of all of us together.

Q - How do you see Matthew Morgan and the Lost Brigade fitting into the Chicago music scene? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Rather than fitting into a scene, I think that we're more interested in building our own thing and then trying to find people to connect with. 

Chicago's music scene is so vast.  It seems like we should know everyone by now, but we continue to find little pockets of musicians doing their own thing simultaneously and somehow our paths have never crossed.

As for the future, as soon as the album is out, we're going to launch a college radio campaign and then design a series of weekend tours across the Midwest. I think the plan is to try to raise the money for the tour by using Kickstarter, or one of the other crowd funding sites.

But, we're definitely not leaving Chicago as our home base.